Jeremy Smith's blog

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The Future of Information Architecture

Great primer article on new problems, new solutions, and new scopes of architecture in Information Architecture 2.0. Granted JSR-*'s, SOA mumbo-jumbo, and the WS-stack are not going to go away any time soon; rather there are new solutions to problems that these technical aspects of "architectures" sought to solve but didn't do that good of a job.

It's kind of like back in the pre-SOA-buzzword days when people would incessantly shout "CORBA!" "DCOM!" "JNDI!" at everything the SOAP people would say. Well, those people were finally won over (or were reluctantly converted at the risk of losing their jobs because they wouldn't update their skill sets). Unfortunately, now they sit around accompanied by some of the less "agile of mind" (is how I'll put it) original proponents of SOA with their arms crossed yelling "SOAP!" "J2EE!" ".Net!" "WS-ReallyComplexYouWouldn'tUnderstandItSecurity!".

A better thansition, rather than convert them from being obnoxiously focused with religious zealotry on one small protocol or method of framing a problem, is to change the way they approach the problem upfront. Rather than walk into a problem and try to answer the question, "how can I use SOAP to solve this problem?"; we need to move everyone into: "how do I best solve this problem with the tools and technologies available to me?"

But, enough of that. Here, quotes from the article:

In the early days of information architecture (IA), groups and their related items tended to be well defined. For example, in the heyday of e-commerce, an information architect translated a product catalog into a storefront on the Web. Today, these problems seem old hat.

Modern Web technologies permit greater flexibility in navigation, search, retrieval, and display. At the same time, the quantity of information is growing exponentially, and users expect greater control over content.

Empowered users feel a greater sense of ownership for online content - even if they didn't create it - which translates to higher expectations for their ability to manage that information. One example of this phenomenon is the proliferation of RSS feeds. Like most of the technologies loosely forming Web 2.0, RSS has been around for a while, but it's only in the last year or so that it's gained traction.

There are now Web services for managing information that people previously stored locally, on their own computers - events, bookmarks, photos, and contacts, among others. All of these Web services allow users to carve out virtual space for storing their information rather than hard disk space. One online application that serves this purpose is the wiki.

Individual publishing is only the beginning. The Web 2.0 paradigm shift has also introduced new sources of metadata. Typically the domain of specialists, metadata is information about information. Metadata supports various tasks like retrieval, administration, access, and more. Although allowing the consumers of information to contribute metadata is hardly a new idea, there are new implementations popping up online. Most notably, free tagging...

Free tagging is controversial. Some think it renders librarians and information architects obsolete, because there is no longer a need for formal categorization. At the other extreme, some insist that the metadata people create by free tagging is of no value. The moderate view is simply that free tagging and formal classification are two different techniques that address different problems...

[F]ree tagging does offer one important advantage in a Web environment where more and more content is community contributed. Users do not have to exert much mental energy to determine appropriate keywords for specific entries. When given a choice, users will shun creating metadata when there are too many constraints on what is permissible. Free tagging effectively removes the constraints of controlled vocabularies and metadata categories, lowering the barriers to entry for capturing useful information.

With users continually contributing both content and metadata, information architects have much less raw data to work with up front. Instead, they must think about the structures and patterns that govern these dynamic information spaces without losing sight of their primary responsibility: ensuring people can find the information they need.


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